For the last six months of 2014, my YouTube channel was partnered with the Freedom! MCN via their subnetwork, Etatch. In December, I submitted a request to end this partnership, which became effective around the first of the new year. While this really isn’t a big deal, and there is no significant drama to speak of, I do feel it is a good opportunity to share some of my thoughts from the experience. Browsing the Let’s Play subreddit, I frequently see people ask about partnerships, so maybe sharing my thoughts will help someone else.
The opportunity to partner with Etatch arrived in my inbox one day as a complete surprise. It was kind of exciting, as somehow it made me feel a little more “legit” as a YouTube hobbyist, because the message said they had watched some videos and felt I would be a good addition. I will not say this was not true, but I will get into the fallacy of my thinking soon. The messages implied how a partnership would help a channel grow, touted the revenue share, and promised a positive experience. After giving it significant thought, I decided it was a good opportunity to test drive a partnership, as I really had nothing to lose. One of the benefits of Freedom! is their 30-day “no lock-in” contract, which means they can be easy to test-drive and there is always a way out.
The experience has not been significantly positive or negative. Overall, I found more things I would consider negative (in the way having nothing when you want something is a negative), which is why I terminated the partnership. Unfortunately, I don’t know how many of the issues apply to more networks than Freedom!, but I would assume most are similar enough in how they operate that it will take significant convincing of a difference to get me to trouble with joining one again.
There were certainly some positive aspects to being partnered. For instance, Freedom has worked out deals that offer a lot of music you can use in your videos, though I cannot say if it is really any better or more expansive than the royalty-free music one can find without a partnership. Being part of a network can also make it a little easier to find and communicate with like-minded content producers to discuss tips, compare experiences, or put together collaborations. There are probably some other things I am either forgetting or was not aware of because they are offered to larger channels.
The ways of one network do not represent the business approach of all networks, so be sure to investigate how a potential network operates before joining. Speaking specifically about Freedom, I have to say I did not like their business model. During my short time as a partner, it was clear that Freedom’s primary measure of success (for the moment, anyway) is the number of channels partnered with the network (and they count all subnetworks, so they weave quite a web). I believe their business plan is to simply sign up as many channels as possible, thereby playing the statistics and increasing the likelihood they have included those channels lucky enough to hit it big, as well as to simply work a profit from sheer volume, as taking a cut of a channel’s ad revenue is entirely passive income.
This model is clear by looking at their structure. There are no real requirements to join Freedom. Nearly every application seems to be accepted, and almost anyone can start their own subnetwork under the main MCN. All partners are also offered referral bonuses for bringing other channels into the network. It all points to a desire for unmitigated growth. During my six months with Etatch, I received multiple requests to join other Freedom subnetworks, one of which even argued with me about how much more his network offered when I explained I was already with a Freedom subnetwork. Their system incentivizes, and therefore indirectly encourages spam and cannibalism between networks.
I mentioned earlier that being contacted by a recruiter was exciting and made me feel more legit. However, I really was nothing more than just another channel. Freedom seems to show little discretion in what channels they partner. This results in you being a small fish in a sea only a bit smaller than YouTube itself, but also in Freedom being unable to truly deliver on the promise to help you grow. This also results in a large number of partners who are immature, both in life and in business, which significantly reduces the value of the community as a tool.
As a member of the network, I of course subbed to the Freedom channel in an effort to keep up with any network-related news. However, I unsubbed after a couple months because it cluttered my sub box with overly frequent uploads. The channel was full of “helpful” tips for growing your channel, which the channel itself employed gratuitously. These tips include very gimmicky practices such as hype and teaser videos. Personally, I don’t have the time and will usually unsubscribe any channel that uploads a short video to tease or hype a video that goes live in an hour. I also found a lot of their videos to mislead one into thinking there was valuable news content, and if the content was anything more than a tease, it required getting deep into the video to find. Basically, I felt that as a subbed partner (and I would assume the majority of their subs are network partners), they weren’t there to help me so much as I was there to help them get views and revenue on their videos.
I do not do YouTube for money. I started it as a curiosity and potential hobby, with the notion that it would provide enough cash to buy a game nothing more than a pipe dream. When you monetize videos on YouTube, you do so through Google Adsense, which requires you to accumulate $100 USD before it will pay you. At about $0.20 – $0.30 a month, ever receiving a payment is unlikely. One advantage to the Freedom! network is that they will pay you monthly, regardless of amount. However, they only give you 60% of what you would get through Adsense. Unfortunately, the way it was presented to me was that Freedom offered a 60/40 split, and that was better than the 55/45 split from Adsense (which lead me to assume Freedom had its own ad network because this didn’t make sense otherwise).
If you are doing videos for the money or have any concerns about this at all, be sure to look into how a potential network handles ad revenue very thoroughly. It may be that you are better off on your own. Thankfully, I did not really care, as this was all an experiment from the very start. However, had I been a larger channel with a real revenue stream, I would have been rather miffed at the poor communication on how the revenue works from the recruiter. Of course, had I been a larger channel, I also would have been given a more VIP recruitment effort and/or a greater revenue share offer anyway, so that might be a moot point.
Networks offer very little to smaller channels in the way of direct help. I definitely found there was no real hands-on help. Instead, they provided “tools”. They never really explain what these tools are. I guess those would be the community, music library, and how-to videos. One quickly realizes the relatively low value of these tools, as royalty-free music and how-to videos can be found without a network (and in better quality in some cases).
As I mentioned earlier, the value of the community as a tool is dependent on those within the community. Despite the sheer volume of partners, the number truly involved and helpful on the community forums is quite limited. There is a very large number of “check out my channel plz” posts. Their volunteer moderators work very hard to keep things organized and clean, but when such a volume of new partners is constantly flowing in without regard to experience, business acumen, or mental maturity, it makes finding valuable discussion quite difficult. Requests for help or critiques of your channel or videos in forum topics meant for that purpose often fall off without a reply. There is little more frustrating than receiving no help when you ask for it. I still don’t understand why they don’t hire people specifically for this purpose.
Those who complain about the network’s failure to help them grow on the forums are promptly told that joining the network does not immediately grow a channel, and that it takes hard work using the tools provided. This says a couple of things. First, I am not certain those defending the network could even identify these tools they speak of so confidently. The other issue is a sense that little will change, as your tiny channel is just a speck to the network and your concerns are quickly disregarded.
The truth is, all partnered channels are passive income to the network. The network takes a percentage of each partnered channel’s revenue, regardless of what they have done for that particular channel. There is no incentive to help you, beyond that of keeping you partnered. One might think your growth bringing them more revenue would be an incentive, but you already have a drive to grow and will do it yourself, so why should they expend the energy? By playing the statistics of volume, they ensure that there will be plenty of large or growing large channels that are content enough to remain with the network that the attrition of discontent or anemic channels does not hurt them.
Though it may sound like it, my experience was not entirely negative. I did manage to find a few quality channels to follow. With sufficient digging, I found some helpful tips and ideas to implement. I also learned a lot (much of which comes from the negative aspects, of course). As a small channel, it seems pretty clear a network is not for me. Honestly, unless the network was going to directly work for their share and help me do things I cannot do on my own, I have trouble seeing how one may ever be for me. Most of what a network like Freedom “offers” is the same as what one can find independently with enough searching. Using the tools available to everyone via Twitter, YouTube, and Twitch to find similar channels and other players/community members seems to do just as much for your learning, growth, and inspiration as being in a vast network.